Boyd could be pitcher perfect
If finishing a season in superb fashion is a virtue in major league baseball, Matt Boyd grades out as an A-plus in 2017.
The left-handed pitcher out of Oregon State was a veritable tiger in Detroit, with some of the best pitching in the big leagues in the month of September.
"It's like leaving an important lasting impression," says Nate Yeskie, Boyd's pitching coach at OSU. "If a guy finishes strong, that bodes well with an organization's decision-makers when they go into their offseason meetings."
On Sept. 17, Boyd came within an out of becoming the first southpaw in franchise history to throw a no-hitter in the Tigers' 12-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox. He allowed only one baserunner — on a third-inning to Rob Brantly — before Tim Anderson broke up the no-hit bid with a two-out double in the top of the ninth inning. Boyd, who walked one and struck out five, finished by throwing 121 pitches for his first career complete game and shutout.
In his next outing against Minnesota on Sept. 23, Boyd's second pitch was bunted by Brian Dozier toward third baseman Jeimer Candelano, who fielded it on a hop and threw the ball past first base into the right-field corner. Dozier circled the bases to score on what was ruled a single and three-base error.
After that, Boyd was lights out, allowing no hits or runs through six innings. He left with two outs in the seventh and a 3-2 lead, having given up four hits and one earned run. The Twins went on to a 10-4 victory.
In his final start of the season on Sept. 29, also against the playoff-bound Twins, Boyd allowed seven hits and five runs in five innings of a 6-3 defeat. In six games in September, Boyd was 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA, allowing 30 hits with 11 walks and 30 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.
"I feel good about the way it ended," Boyd says in an interview from his home in Detroit. "I've putting the adjustments I made about a month ago with (pitching) coach (Rich) Dubey to work, simplifying my delivery, and trusting in the process."
It was a solid finish to a roller-coaster season for Boyd, which included a six-week stint with Triple-A Toledo in June and July. For the season with Detroit, Boyd was 6-11 with a 5.27 ERA in 27 appearances, 26 of them starts.
Boyd entered September having lost four of his previous five starts. He was 0-3 with an 8.75 ERA in August. After Boyd allowed seven runs, seven hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings of a 13-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Aug. 22, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus issued what amounted to an edict in talking about Boyd to reporters.
"The truth is at this point, he's going to have to learn how to pitch or there's going to be a move made with him," Ausmus said. "He shows flashes of having that ability at some point; he's going to have to do it in a consistent basis. Simple as that.
"It's a performance-based game. If you don't perform, the game is going to catch up to you. At some point, there's an expiration date on how much rope you're given."
After that game, Boyd and Dubee worked to simplify and streamline his delivery.
"Rich pulled me aside and said, 'We have to make changes if you want to have success,'" Boyd says. "They were changes that better-suited over the offseason, but time is not a luxury everybody has in the big leagues. I had to make them right then and there. Fortunately, we were not in a pennant chase, so I could afford to make the adjustments. Since then, it's been solid."
In his near no-hitter against Chicago, Boyd attacked both sides of the plate with four pitches — fastball, slider, change-up and curveball.
"Honestly, I just felt like any other start," he says. "I went in there, attacking a pitch at a time, sticking with it. Our guys made some great plays behind me. Late in the game, I looked up (at the scoreboard) and saw I was one batter over the minimum with a walk.
"It would have been fun to get a no-hitter, but I'll take a nine-inning shutout every single time."
Boyd threw a few no-hitters at Eastside Catholic in Mercer Island, Washington, and tossed a one-hitter against Arizona State as a senior at Oregon State. The hit came on the first batter in that game.
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Boyd could have had a future in another sport — hockey. He was a high-level player who spent most of his time at forward in juniors, playing Bantam hockey, as well as baseball, when was 15.
"I loved being physical in the corners and pushing guys around," the 6-3, 215-pound Boyd says.
"My first two games of Bantams, I had back-to-back hat tricks."
Then he had a decision to make.
"The choice was to go to prep school on the East Coast or play Junior B for the (Seattle) Totems," he says. "I would have had to leave home. I could have gone on to play at a higher level, go the college route or try to get into the (Western Hockey League).
"I loved hockey and baseball equally, but I wanted to stay with family and friends. Hockey would have been fun. It always will have a place in my heart. But it's turned out the way it was supposed to."
Boyd was an outstanding two-way player in high school, a pitcher and a first baseman who could hit for power. Funny thing is, he's a natural right-hander.
"When I was six or seven, I had a nice right-handed Mark Langston Rawlings leather glove," he says. "Then my dad (Kurt Boyd) took me to a Mariners game on Ken Griffey Jr. Glove Night. I got a glove — a plastic one. But I loved it. Griffey was my favorite player.
"I used that glove until I got my first leather left-handed glove when I was nine. I still do a majority of things right-handed. I eat and write right-handed. I can throw a football 40 yards with a spiral right-handed."
Boyd began his career at Oregon State as a two-way player, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors. He hit .264 with six doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs as a first baseman and went 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 42 2/3 innings in 20 appearances on the mound, 18 as a reliever.
"Matt showed some promise as a position player," Yeskie says. "But had a feel and the mind of a pitcher. He enjoyed being in control with the ball in his hands."
Boyd was a pitcher after that, going 0-0 with a 1.57 ERA and four saves in 30 relief appearances as a sophomore. He was a reliever again as a junior, going 4-0 with a 3.41 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 37 innings. He was drafted in the 13th round of the major league draft by Cincinnati after that season, but chose to return for his senior season.
Boyd was sensational as a senior in 2013, going 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA as a starter as Oregon State won the Pac-12 championship and made it to the College World Series. He recorded the Beavers' first-ever complete-game CWS effort in a 1-0 shutout of Indiana in what would be his final collegiate performance. Toronto took him in the sixth round of the draft.
Was returning for his senior season the right decision?
"Yes, 100 percent," he says. "It couldn't have been scripted any better for me, and for our team. It was something I didn't think I would do. Through prayer, it was clear I was supposed to go back.
"I had the chance to start for coach (Pat) Casey on Friday nights. We won the Pac-12 championship. We got to Omaha. I got drafted six rounds higher by an organization that wanted me to start for them. I met the woman who would become my wife (Ashley) that year. On top of all that, I was a class away from getting my degree, and I got that the next fall. It was truly a blessing."
Yeskie considers Boyd one of the favorites he has coached during his decade at OSU.
"Matt was extremely coachable," Yeskie says. "He's a gym rat, the type of guy who continues to outperform people's expectations because of the quality of person he is. He's a good guy to have in your clubhouse, and he'll be a good ambassador for wherever he is. He's been one for Oregon State, and he's one for the Tigers right now."
Boyd considers his time at Oregon State "the best four years of my life."
"It was so much fun," he says. "I got to play for the best coaches in the nation. I got to play in front of the best fans in the nation, at one of the best universities. My teammates were amazing. The bonds I forged with those guys I love four years ... I have friendships that will last forever.
"I follow the program almost every game, and I watch them when I can on TV. I talk to the coaches all the time. I'll always be a loyal Beaver."
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Boyd advanced to the majors quickly after starting his pro career in short-season A ball in 2013. In 2014, he pitched in advanced A and AA, going 6-7 with 3.17 ERA. In 2015, he was a combined 9-2 with 1.65 ERA in Double-A (New Hampshire) and Triple-A Buffalo before reaching the majors with Toronto. After appearing in two games with the Blue Jays, he was traded to Detroit in July. Boyd went 1-6 with a 7.53 ERA in 13 combined appearances and 12 starts with Blue Jays and Tigers that season.
In 2016, Boyd was 6-5 in 20 appearances, including 18 starts, with a 4.53 ERA. He also spent time with Toledo, with whom he was 2-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts.
Boyd was up and down this season with the Tigers. He was solid in April but struggled in May (0-4 with a 7.28 ERA). Then he was sent down to Toledo. Was that discouraging?
"Not at all," he say. :I looked at it as an opportunity to get better. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. (Toledo pitching coach) Jeff Pico helped me out focus on what I can control."
Boyd was 3-3 with a 2.82 ERA in eight starts with Toledo. He was inconsistent upon his return to Detroit until the bullpen sessions with Dubee helped turn his season around.
"I'm happy with my year overall," Boyd says. "You'd like to to finish with a a sub-3 ERA. You'd love to have pitching 200-plus innings and striking out a guy an inning, but sometimes that's not the case. You have to battle.
"My numbers don't dictate the kind of year I've had. I've grown leaps and bounds, mentally and physically on the mound in my mechanics. I'm grateful for the time Jeff and Rich have invested in me. You'd like to have sparkling numbers, but it's going to set me up in the long run for next year."
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Matt and Ashley will return to their winter home in Issaquah, Washington, with their newborn and first child, daughter Meira.
"Being a father is pretty crazy," says Boyd, 26. "It puts everything in perspective. It's fun coming home every night and getting to be with them."
The Boyds will continue their work with "Remember Nhu," a nonprofit committed to ending child sex slavery in underdeveloped countries.
"It's an international organization with a strong presence in Portland," Boyd says. "Two years ago, Ashley and I went to Thailand and got to see the villages and countryside where the kids are being house. They collect kids at risk for being solid into sex trade and give them a bed, three meals a day and a full education. They teach them the word of God and will pay for university after high school."
Boyd will train at a Seattle-area athletic facility over the winter with a workout group that includes ex-Beavers Michael Conforto and Dylan Davis.
"I want to become even more solid with my mechanics," Boyd says. "I have the hardest part out of the way. The rest is about executing pitches and repeatability. If I can do that, I'll be in a good spot."
Detroit finished at 64-98, tied for the worst record in the major leagues.
"It was frustrating," Boyd says. "We were pretty good last year (86-75) and thought we could be better this year. Unfortunately, we just didn't perform the way we wanted to. It led to some trades through. It's tough, but we've set ourselves up for the future. We're excited for the years to come."
Boyd hopes to continue his career with the Tigers.
"I love the organization," he says. "I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm very grateful every single day."
Yeskie believes Boyd has a bright major league future.
"Matt is doing the same thing he did at Oregon State," Yeskie says. "He continues to get better each year. He hasn't hit that sweet spot yet. He has a three-to-four-year run in him where he's going to turn in some really good numbers. That's through getting stronger and with more experience."